Anyone who's watched prime time TV recently will have viewed one of the ads touting Mario and Luigi’s latest adventure. The trademark theme tune is enough to make fans drop what they’re doing and take heed (we’ve seen it happen); while images of smiling families having fun should grab the attention of parents pondering what to buy the kids for Christmas. Slick marketing strategy aside, we’re here to discover whether Super Mario Bros. Wii is worth the purchase price.
The game has been built from scratch for the Nintendo Wii, and while it doesn’t stray from the tried and true formula of past Mario titles – or offer any ground breaking innovations, there are a few new features thrown into the mix. It is also refreshing to see a traditional retro-style platformer venturing out into a market inundated by next-gen titles pushing their hi-tech envelopes.
The game's storyline follows a familiar theme: Princess Peach has been kidnapped (again), on her birthday, no less! You’d think she would have installed better palace security measures, but instead our damsel in distress must rely on her indomitable plumber pals to rescue her. Our heroes travel across a number of different worlds, collecting coins and items, dodging hazards, dispatching enemies, discovering secret chambers and generally laughing in the face of danger. Mario and Luigi are without a doubt the original adrenaline junkies, and we get to tag along for the ride.
For gamers who prefer the feel of a joystick under their thumb there’s an option to use the nunchuck with the Wii remote, or you can simply do away with the nunchuck altogether and hold the Wii remote horizontally, NES-style. Controls are simple to learn and use, making the game accessible to even the most uncoordinated amongst us. Some in-game actions require shaking or tilting the Wii remote, which may seem unnecessary in an old school platform game but these movements quickly become second nature, and they do feature quite prominently in the multiplayer modes.
With eight worlds to complete – each consisting of multiple levels (or courses, as they are called), there’s a substantial amount of playing time packed into NSMB. The course layouts are well designed and generally of short duration, with some being simple and straightforward while others are quite challenging. Of course, the difficulty increases as you progress through the game. Should a particular course stump you after eight attempts, you’ll have access to a Super Guide, which relegates Mario to the sidelines while Luigi steps in and expertly negotiates the tricky bits on autopilot. Additional assistance is available in the form of viewable hints and course walkthroughs, which are unlocked by cashing in the star coins you’ve collected.
New items include the Ice Flower, Penguin Suits and Propeller Mushrooms, which enable characters to throw snowballs, navigate frozen/watery terrain and get some serious air. You can also pick up and throw objects, such as certain types of blocks and barrels. Mini-games offer a bit of variety from all that jump-n-run action; characters can try their luck at a pairs-matching game to earn items, or get shot out of giant cannons at moving targets. Completionists will enjoy collecting every hidden star coin and unearthing all the secrets. Occasionally you’ll get the opportunity to ride a Yoshi – hardly a knight’s noble steed, but their skill set includes ‘eating’ enemies with their extendable tongues and converting swallowed projectiles into return fire.
The game can accommodate up to four players (Mario, Luigi and two toads – each requiring a controller), and you can either team up to rescue Princess Peach, or engage in one of the other modes - either competitively or cooperatively. Free Mode allows you and up to three other players to play a single level of your choosing, and Coin Battle is pretty much self explanatory: the player who collects the most coins is the winner. Both options are a lot of fun – particularly when played competitively. Discovering creative ways to take down another character (such as hurling them into a lava pit or between the teeth of two giant cogs), proved a great source of amusement for us. Imagine how much fun the kids will have, once they cotton onto it...
In addition to these game modes, there are a number of extra actions available to two or more players, such as hoisting another character above your head, from where he can attack or use an item which benefits both of you; or the Synchronised Ground Pound – timing your jump ‘n’ thump just right for greater devastation. If there aren’t enough Yoshis to go around you can even get yours to swallow another player and transport him to a safe point, where it can spit him out again… or if you don’t fancy being eaten and regurgitated, you can attempt to jack another player’s ride with a sneaky 'ground pound' manoeuvre. Surprisingly (and disappointingly), there is no online multiplayer option, which is why the game did not score higher with our team. At the very least we would have expected a leaderboard, where you could post your best scores or marvel at someone else's achievements.
Moving right along... the soundtrack is loaded with classically catchy SMB tunes and sounds, as well as introducing new ones to the mix – all very much in the same style as previous titles. Likewise the graphics, while boasting some gorgeous backgrounds and fancy window dressing, retain their ‘Mario-ness’ with simplistic, cartoonish sprites and vibrant colours reminiscent of the original games.
So is the game worth buying? Most certainly; fans of Nintendo’s flagship franchise may well bemoan the apparent lack of innovation, but why mess with a formula which has withstood the test of time? Nintendo has achieved a good balance of ‘old school’ qualities with an updated façade. Truth be told, the single player adventure is probably a little too challenging for gamers at the youngest end of the spectrum, but there’s still plenty of good fun to be had. The multiplayer options mean New Super Mario Bros. Wii is an even more attractive prospect to the casual gamer, and we guarantee you’ll go back for a second or third helping.